Not only does excess cortisol, our long term stress hormone, increase appetite and cravings, but it also causes a loss of memory, muscle mass, libido, and bone density. Stress causes abdominal fat – even in people who are otherwise thin. Hundreds of studies have established the link between high cortisol and more belly fat, as well as increased storage of abdominal fat. In my 20 years of medical practice, I have seen that most patients, unfortunately, adopt behaviors that only serve to make the problem worse. This is especially true for women 30 – 60 years of age who, more often than not, miss meals or excessively restrict calories, over-exercise (too long, too hard, too often) and tend to choose the wrong types of exercise like spinning, running or bootcamp classes, which spike cortisol and further muscle loss. Cortisol can also rise from missing the essential mid-afternoon protein-rich meal, and with complete avoidance of starchy carbohydrates or fruit, like Keto-Dieter’s do, as well as any form of intermittent fasting that is repeated daily (i.e. the 16-8 approach). High cortisol is linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disruption and simply feeling dissatisfied or overwhelmed. These concerns and mental states seriously add inches right around our waistline. Also, If your blood sugar levels are on a rollercoaster all day, you can bet your cortisol is as well. I tell my patients that it is almost impossible for me to restore their cortisol balance if they skip breakfast (I encourage them to eat within an hour of rising), and continue to miss a protein meal between 2 – 4 pm. Their last meal in the evening should be finished by 7 p.m.
My best advice to protect your brain from the harmful effects of cortisol – take omega3’s – plant based or marine based. I recommend plant based omega 3’s for all my patients over 40.